Friday, March 5, 2010

Text me on how you feel about this.

Gimme a reason. What's in your brain?
- Umphrey's McGee "Andy's Last Beer"
I don't know what people are thinking no more than I know what bears or ducks are thinking. They're thinking something, for sure, but what - I do not know.
Like waiting around for the telephone to ring (or whatever it is that phones do now) is horrifying. The people we're waiting on don't know the anguish they are putting us through. All they know is what's in their brain - which isn't close to what's in ours. That's the worst. The call wait. It's agonizing.
But it makes a nice haiku:
give me a reason.
i don't know what you're thinking.
what is in your brain?
OK. That's out of my system. People tell me I'm "a catch." I think it's like those little sunfish we used to catch out of the lake back home. Small enough to throw back but not nice enough to keep or care about.
Part of our Internet-based throwaway society is that we can pick and choose with whom we socialize. We can "ignore" friend requests and respond to those whom we deem necessary to respond. It isn't like the old days when we had to pick up a telephone and actually speak to someone. Now, we can break someone's heart via text message or ... worse yet ... via non response. We can say it's been "crazy" and I "haven't had time for myself." Meanwhile the poor sap on the other end is waiting for some reply to his heartfelt request. It's a symptom of the 21st century. The "Me Century" where what me wants me gets. You see it all over.
People wander about with their Bluetooth headsets in one ear and their attention in the other. They aren't thinking about you and your little world. Their little world.
We are all cocooned in our Internet-based worlds, and that's swell, until we actually have to interact with someone on the outside (like our parents did) and (God forbid) speak to them. Text messages, Facebook, Tweets -- whatever -- as long as we don't have to actually speak to someone. I can't take that kind of pressure.
I think that's why "social networking" sites like Facebook and Twitter are so popular. We don't have to actually confront anyone. We can reject them via text message.
And isn't that better -- for you?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Four non-sequitors.

Another earthquake. Chile this time. That's the problem with earthquakes - you never know where the next one is going to strike. So, while thousands of Americans are building support for Haiti, the earth has beat them to it with another giant tremor in South America. This one was so big that it jarred the earth off its axis to the point that the guys at NASA think that the earth's days are a thousandth of a second shorter than they were two weeks ago. Take that, Haiti pussies. Your earthquake sucked.
I had to call a customer service line today. I got the standard “Your call is important to us. All our representatives are currently helping other customers. Please hold until a customer service representative is available.” So I held.
Don’t you get the impression that there is a large room filled with busy service reps busily taking phone calls? I do. I picture a big warehouse with little divided cubicles and people wearing headsets. The truth is that there are probably two or three people in a garage in India standing around watching “The Price is Right” sipping coffee, when one of them notices that the red light is blinking. I’m interrupting their break.
Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter is proposing a 2-cent per ounce tax on beverages with added sugar. He’s calling it the Healthy Philadelphia Initiative. Whenever politicians come up with a lousy idea, they give it a flowery name so we’ll think it’s something good. He thinks that taxing soda and junk beverages will make people switch to water and sugar-free beverages. I thought that people would stop smoking when cigarettes got to a dollar a pack. Six dollars later and they’re still puffing. People will buy what they want. They’ll complain and keep doing it. It’s simple human nature. If they wanted sugar-free diet soda they would already be buying it.
Former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook was cut by the team last week. He has had two concussions and a variety of injuries that led to the team letting him go. Now, he is looking for work and it's possible that another team will pick him up. I find it fascinating that a guy with a history of injury problems could find work among the 15 or so teams that could use a player, but there is 10% unemployment in the real world and people with actual college degrees and skills cannot find a job among hundreds of companies. Sports is a strange business.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Playing Post Office

Our postal service is in trouble again, and as usual, they're going to lean on us:
WASHINGTON - The post office is renewing its drive to drop Saturday delivery — and plans a rate increase — in an effort to fend off a projected $7 billion loss this year.
Without drastic action the agency could face a cumulative loss of $238 billion over 10 years, Postmaster General John Potter said in releasing a series of consultant reports on agency operations and its outlook.
"The projections going forward are not bright," Potter told reporters in a briefing.
We have heard this before, and especially over the past 10 years. The U.S. Postal Service is dying, a victim of both bad management and lack of demand for their services.
I defend them all the time, but it's growing stale. Routinely someone else's mail is left in my mailbox, and I can't help but wonder how many times my mail has been left in others' boxes. It stands to reason. It's kind of a simple job, and the sorting is done for them by machine, so one wonders why the basic skill of reading escapes them.
Now they're talking about decreasing service and increasing rates, which is something you only see in government. Service reductions followed by a tax increase is a tried and true way for government to lay their mismanagement on us. It might finally be time to fight back.
Frederic V. Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, also urged Congress to provide the post office with "financial breathing room," but he opposed eliminating one day of delivery.
"I do not believe that weakening our commitment of six-day service to the public will enhance the long-term position of the Postal Service as a critical element in our nation's economic infrastructure," Rolando said."
As Americans turn more and more from paper to electronic communications, the number of items handled by the post office fell from 213 billion in 2006 to 177 billion last year. Volume is expected to shrink to 150 billion by 2020.
I've always wondered about a business model that bases its service on charging the same amount to deliver something 3,000 miles as it does to deliver it 3,000 feet.
I once met a FedEx pilot who told me that every overnight or "Express Mail" package sent through the U.S. Postal Service is carried by Federal Express. That's because the Postal Service does not own any aircraft. They lease the service from FedEx. So why wouldn't you just send something FedEx? They do a good job, too.
The agency has asked Congress for permission to reduce delivery days and has previously discussed the need for other changes such as closing some offices. Cutting back Saturday home delivery, however, does not mean post offices would close that day.
There seemed to be concern on the part of Congress that officials had not looked at all possible options, Potter said, adding that was part of the reason for the three consultant studies. Postmaster General Tom Potter said he would like to see mail delivery cut to five days a week starting next year.
Later this month, he said, the Postal Service will ask the independent Postal Regulatory Commission to review its plans for the service reduction.
It might be time to move into the 21st century and privatize the Postal Service. Give consumers a real choice, and not a made-up one decided by the Postal Service. There might be more efficient and inexpensive ways to move mail, if we only had access to them.
They did it with telephones a long time ago, and I don't see huge numbers of people suffering from competition. If someone else can reliably deliver letters and packages for less than 44 cents it might be time to let them do it. The United Parcel Service and Federal Express already have a leg up, and something tells me that they're circling like buzzards waiting for the rotting carcass of the U.S. Postal Service to finally go toes up.
The fingers are going up. Toes to go.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Strange television.

What now, that the Olympics is over? NBC ran a two-page ad in the Inquirer this morning with little photos of all their prime-time shows, seemingly to remind us of all the stuff we missed over the past 16 days. Alas, no curling reality programs for the fall lineup.
On Sunday night, they abruptly left the closing ceremonies to rush us to "The Marriage Ref," another one of those so-called reality shows where celebrities watch people doing things and make jokes about what is happening, then suggest ways to improve their lives. Alec Baldwin is one of the panelists. The day I have to submit myself to listening to Alec Baldwin tell me what is wrong with my life is the day I will have exhausted all of my social resources. He's the one who should be the subject.
But right there, in the middle of something, Bob Costas jumped in and said:
"We're back in an hour with the Closing Ceremony party from Vancouver. Nickleback and Avril Lavigne are among the acts that will be performing. But right now we take you to the premiere of Jerry Seinfeld's new series, 'The Marriage Ref.'"
Oh boy. It was 10:30 on the east coast when they made that announcement. How many people could (a) make it through "The Marriage Ref" and (b) still had the intestinal strength to endure Avril Lavigne at midnight? Nobody in my house. And we will choose to ignore the atrocious grammar of the saintly Costas, as he started his sentence with "We're back in an hour." What does that mean? We are back in an hour or we were back in an hour? Speak English, Bob, you pompous blowhole. We will be back in an hour would have sufficed.
Meanwhile, over on CBS they were showing something called "Undercover Boss," which they describe thusly:
­The new CBS reality series UNDERCOVER BOSS follows high-level chief executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their companies. Each week a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company. While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run.
As if they didn't know how their company ran. On Sunday night, it was White Castle's turn. Owner David Rife visited a few restaurants and tried his hand at flipping burgers and schmoozing with the help and a few supervisors. In the end, he gave one guy $5,000 for his child's education (part of which he spent at Toys R Us) and uncovered some low employee morale (at a burger joint, no kidding) and found a couple of supervisors who don't get along (shocking).
It comes off as touching and heartfelt. Big-time executives living the life of the peon and attempting to gain a better understanding of their business from the bottom up. Sure, I guess.
But the cynical side of me thinks that the company stands to benefit more than the people they are supposed to be helping. It's a grandstand effort of public relations to show people that you are trying to help your employees, most of whom are probably making less than 9 dollars an hour while the President makes 500 times that much. During an economic downturn, 60 minutes of prime network air time and a week of the President's time is well worth whatever pittance he shells out to his employees. $5,000? Really? You can't buy thirty seconds of ad time on CBS for 5-grand. Put the kid through college and we'll talk.
Check the numbers and I'd guess that on Monday, White Castle's business increased by at least 20 percent, from people who want to buy lunch at a place where "management cares." And don't think that the people at White Castle haven't already checked. I'm sure there were similar increases at 7-eleven and Hooters, whose businesses were used the past two weeks. Gee - how hard was it to get the CEO of Hooters to spend a week working with the girls? Twist his arm much?
The show tugs at your heartstrings until you realize what it really is - another TV show that manipulates your feelings and gives you the impression that things are different in "reality" world than they are in the real world. My guess is that Mr. Rife got about 3,000 e-mail's from employees at locations he didn't visit telling him that their problems are worse or that the restaurants they work in are worse than the ones he visited.
Next week they spotlight Churchill Downs. Will the horses complain? Watch your step Mr. Carstanjen.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday thoughts

I went to see "Avatar" last night. Not just any "Avatar," mind you - the 3-dimensional IMAX version, which, I was told was the only way to see it, which was correct. Although, I found myself taking the glasses off a few times during the film to see what it looked like. It's kinda blurry.
First, it's one Hell of a movie. You'll find yourself wondering "How did they do that?" while you're wondering what else is going on. There is some stupid dialogue, but we're willing to look past that in order to get to the root of the issue, which is the death of our little blue marble. I heard a few comments about how it's an allegorical tale of man's destruction of the rain forest and how we are a 'use and abuse' society ... and, yeah, that's true.
I saw it at the Tropicana in Atlantic City, and afterward, an attendant at a rest room asked me, "Whose side were you on?" as though there could be a different side. I told him I was "a tree hugger" and we both smiled. It only makes sense, doesn't it? Could you possibly be on the other side? Sure, let's invade another planet, mine their Unobtanium, destroy their environment and be arrogant about it. It makes me wonder what sort of a world is waiting for you in 2154.
The United States hockey team lost to the Canadians earlier tonight in overtime, in the biggest display of jingoism I've seen in a while. Signs proclaiming that "Hockey is Canada's Game" were the equivalent of "Yankee Go Home" to hockey fans. Nevertheless, the Canadians won, and I wasn't as twisted up over it as I was over the Canadian women's curling team loss the other day. I worry about that, but not as much as I worry about the future of our planet.
Those Team Canada guys are just industrial representatives put out by the NHL to promote the sport to the world. They don't represent anything except where they were born. Now, they'll go back to America and earn millions representing their American teams. Fucking whores. That isn't the Olympics, it's industry.
After the game, I needed to go to the grocery store to find some more food for my little pony (a.k.a. Thor) and a few sundries for myself (secondary thoughts). The grocery store is always a bit of an adventure, and tonight I went on a down time, so I had the entire checkout aisle to myself - which is in itself a bit stressful. First, I have to get all my stuff on the conveyor before the kid cashier starts putting them in those disgusting plastic bags, which seems to be some automatic reaction to the items being rung up. Tonight, I just dumped the whole hand cart onto the conveyor and opened the canvas bag at the end of the line so I wouldn't have to ask them to stop because "I have my own bags." Someday, they'll learn, but I do worry about them, too, and their texting while driving, disposable container, throwaway economy, use and abuse behavior pattern.
I figured on getting some help from the kid, but instead, she watched as I struggled to put the cans of Meow Mix "Market Select" into the bag along with my regular order of Chobani yogurt, cereal and chicken parts. Afterward, she said, "Thanks for bagging," as if I had any other choice. I'm 52 years old. Why do I care so much?
Do you think the blue people on Pandora would take me as a trainee?